The ‘wheel’ to Travel

Itineraries planned for the physically challenged customers and valuable insights on the type of services and the expectations from this segment has been the focus of Enable Travel. On World Disabled Day (Dec 3), we speak to Debolin Sen, Head, Enable Travel, who explains about the project in detail and how 70 Trips to Freedom Campaign as part of India’s 70th year independence celebrations has helped to spread the awareness.

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ENABLE TRAVEL launched by Cox & Kings, India’s first accessible holiday initiative that caters to the travel aspirations of the physically challenged has enabled to promote a concept with a panel of experts who are disabled themselves, and have travelled extensively to understand the requirements of travellers with disabilities. Itineraries planned for the physically challenged customers and valuable insights on the type of services and the expectations from this segment has been the focus of Enable Travel. On World Disabled Day (Dec 3), we speak to Debolin Sen, Head, Enable Travel, who explains about the project in detail and how 70 Trips to Freedom Campaign as part of India’s 70th year independence celebrations has helped to spread the awareness. Excerpts:

What is the core idea of Enable Travel?

We believe in the absolute rights of people with disabilities to live a life of equal opportunities like any other person. They have the same desire to travel, to breathe in new experiences. However, most of their travel experiences are unpleasant as they don’t have access to barrier-free travel and face issues like accessible travel information, wheelchair friendly transport, hotel and people’s attitudes. To enable them to travel and take journeys just like any other person, and to cater to this distinct segment, Enable Travel has designed curated itineraries to destinations that are barrier-free and offer services that help make access easier. Enable Travel is India’s premier accessible holiday specialist that aims to address travel concerns of persons with disabilities and provide solutions to them. We cater to the four disability types (wheelchair users, blind, deaf and people with speech problems).

Can you throw some light on how you plan to market and promote the campaign for spreading such awareness?

The Enable Travel communication strategy revolves around changing mind-sets and attitudes of the disabled traveller, that they too can travel the length and breadth of the country just like able-bodied travellers do. Their disability shouldn’t hamper this effort. This basically is Enable’s philosophy. If we can make people believe, we will be able to take them places. As part of our launch build up and on-going efforts post launch, we’ve used a multi-pronged approach. Disabled super-hero stories were developed to inspire other disabled travellers, telling them to push past the limits in their mind-sets. A brand film was developed which beautifully brought this spirit to life and attempted to engage, motivate, inspire and awaken the #CanDo spirit amongst the disabled in India and get them to travel.

We’ve grown an audience on social media as part of the community building efforts. Referrals and word of mouth are important for us. Widening the reach to include able-bodied who will refer us to the disabled in their individual spheres of influence is also important. To aid this process – we launched the 70 Trips to Freedom Campaign as part of India’s 70th year independence celebrations. 70 trips to freedom has been successful in driving nominations from the able-bodied of the disabled in the country. The disabled have also nominated themselves!  We’ve launched Firefly World, Enable’s community platform for the disabled and the able-bodied to come together, share information, collaborate, and make the world more accessible and inclusive. The common thread that ties all the above together is #CanDo. A mind-set that can overcome all challenges, and inspire us to push towards the next level. Enable Travel’s core will always be #CanDo and all communication created will reflect the same.

Have you tied up with the government at macro level?

Though we do not have any tie-ups with the government, however, we believe that the Accessible India campaign launched by the government is a promising move that aims to enable persons with disabilities to gain universal access, equal opportunity for development, independent living and participation in all aspects of life in an inclusive society. It is true that a large part of our infrastructure is not disable-friendly and those with disabilities face a lot of constraints accessing basic transportation facilities. However, with this campaign, many organisations have taken up projects to make the already existing infrastructure more accessible. Today, many buildings, offices public places, destinations and monuments have become disable–friendly. As a travel specialist, Enable Travel is our way of contributing to this campaign and making travel dreams of those with disabilities come true.

What kind of investment has been done in terms of manpower and equipments?

We have invested in quality transportation in the form of WAVs—wheelchair accessible vehicles, aids and accessories in the form of ramps, single wheel hiking chairs, amphibian wheelchairs for use in swimming pools and open water, beach wheelchairs, commode and shower wheelchairs amongst other support systems including investment in specially trained staff (care-givers, sign language specialists etc.). Most of these important accessories are specialised in nature, are of good quality and aren’t available in India. Though we would not like to give an exact amount, it will vary depending on the growth of our business.

We also have a range of mini/ mid-sized vans like Toyota Hiaces, Volkswagen Caravells, Innovas and other quality domestic brands which are WAVs (wheelchair accessible vehicles) across our important hubs of Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore. Each hub will cater to the respective zonal requirements. These WAVs will have a combination of rear door entry with in-built ramps as well as provision of safety harnesses for the wheelchair client. Other disability types will use regular vehicles which will be provided.

What are the future plans?

Immediate plans are to nurture the 7 month old till a stage when the brand can stand and walk and run. And in this context, it’s important to know the market potential. Enable Travel can become as large as we wish it to be. It’s an untapped market which holds tremendous potential. Category creation and market penetration will be key. Being nimble and responsive to emerging requirements and needs will be important. The total inbound market for travel for people with disabilities is several million dollars. The domestic market remains untapped. Outbound will also contribute to the pie substantially. In a nutshell, you give the disabled traveller the facilities and support needed and they will travel. According to the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO), more than 12% of the people from the UK who travel had a disability or a long-term health problem. Second, 11% of the Australian tourists who travel have some form of disability and finally, American adults with disabilities or reduced mobility spend an average of US $ 13.6 billion annually on travel. There’s also the purple pound. With 12 million disabled living in the UK, with a spending power of £249 billion pounds a year, it is the largest untapped consumer market. In India, the data from the 2011 Indian census shows that people with disabilities has increased @ 2% per year in the decade since 2001 and is about 26.8 million. This is 2.1% of the country’s population. According to the census, 20.3% of the Indian population are wheelchair users, 18.8% are blind , 18.9% are deaf and 7.5% have speech problems. In the light of such statistics, we see a huge untapped opportunity.


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